Although the border war behind Ohio State and the University of Michigan is considered the most significant rivalry in the Big Ten Conference, the Buckeyes and Wolverines are currently in opposite divisions. That could change in 2014.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith said in an interview with The Lantern that he and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon have had “informal conversations” about the two schools being realigned to the same division when the conference adds Maryland and Rutgers, which were previously in the Atlantic Coastal Conference and the Big East respectively, in 2014.
“We would like to do that if it’s beneficial to the conference and doesn’t get in the way of the overall good of the conference,” Smith said. “Right now, both of us are kind of leaning in that direction, and just waiting to hear the debate in the room amongst our colleagues on the pros and cons of that.”
Brandon did not return The Lantern‘s request for comment.
OSU and Michigan’s yearly battle in the recruiting ranks was highlighted Wednesday, on National Signing Day. Rivals.com, a recruiting website, ranked OSU’s class No. 2 in the country and Michigan’s class No. 5. No other Big Ten school was ranked in the top 15.
Since the conference added the University of Nebraska in 2011, the Big Ten has had two six-team divisions titled the Leaders Division, which includes OSU, and the Legends Division, which includes Michigan.
Smith said there is a “strong lean” among Big Ten athletic directors to realign the two divisions geographically.
Other factors to be considered in the new divisional structure include competitive balance and keeping rivalries, such as OSU’s rivalry with Michigan, within divisions.
“There’s obviously long-term rivalries like ours and Michigan’s, but then there’s some others that just pop up that may be short-lived, but they become rivalries,” Smith said. “We have to talk about all those things, and come to a consensus … but there seems to be a real lean towards geography.”
OSU football historian Jack Park said he thinks it would be good for the Big Ten to put OSU and Michigan in the same division, but that competitive balance could be an issue.
“I still think year in and year out, those are going to be the two best teams in the conference,” Park said. “If I’m Purdue … or I’m Indiana, and I’ve got to be in that same (division), I probably don’t like that.”
Another possible change in 2014 is to increase the number of in-conference football games. Big Ten teams play their final eight games of the season against conference opponents, but Smith said the possibility of increasing that conference schedule to nine or even 10 games will be discussed during conference meetings on Feb. 10 and 11.
One potential drawback to increasing the conference game schedule is the limits it would place on non-conference scheduling. With a 10-game schedule, the Buckeyes would play five road games within the conference every year, which would require the Buckeyes to play two non-conference home games each year to maintain a seven-game home football schedule. This would eliminate the possibility of scheduling home-and-home series with major non-conference opponents.
“We have to have seven home games for our local budget, so there’s a management issue there if you go to 10 (Big Ten games),” Smith said. “Nine gives us that flexibility to do that, and schedule up, which is what we were doing.”
Park said it would make sense for the Big Ten to implement a 10-game schedule if it expands to 16 teams in the future, so that Big Ten teams in separate divisions would play each other more often.
“I think if they go to 16 teams, I would like to see them go to a 10-game schedule, but I don’t think it’ll happen, because I think they want more non-conference teams,” Park said.
OSU President E. Gordon Gee said during a Dec. 5 meeting of OSU’s Athletic Council that there has been ongoing discussion about Big Ten expansion, according to meeting minutes obtained by The Lantern.
Gee told the Athletic Council he believes the collegiate athletic landscape is moving toward three or four super conferences of 16-20 teams, according to the minutes.
ESPN college football reporter Brett McMurphy told The Lantern he believes the Big Ten will be the conference that sets the next wave of conference expansion.
“It all depends on the Big Ten,” McMurphy said. “If (Big Ten commissioner Jim) Delany decides to stay (at 14 teams), then the SEC stays at 14 and the ACC stays at 14, the Pac-12 stays at 12, the Big 12 stays at 10. However, if Delany and the Big Ten go to 16, then I think you’re going to see other conferences react.”
Delany did not return The Lantern‘s request for comment.
McMurphy said he believes the Big Ten will ultimately become a 16-team conference, and the expansion could happen sooner rather than later.
“If (Delany) knows 10 years from now, the Big Ten’s going to have 16 schools, then do (they) wait 10 years to add 15 and 16, or do (they) do it now, so (they) can choose who that 15th and 16th team is?” McMurphy said. “Because if you wait five or 10 years from now, you may not have the two schools that you wanted.”
McMurphy said the Big Ten would most likely draw two teams out of the ACC, the same conference from which it drew Maryland.
Smith said the athletic directors of the Big Ten are “very pleased” with the status of the conference following the additions of Maryland and Rutgers and is focused on that transition rather than adding more teams.
“Our focus is to facilitate that transition into the league, and kind of watch the landscape nationally like we’ve done the last time, and react to it,” Smith said.